30 Is the New 20

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From a 2005 Atlantic Monthly article on the perils of the longevity boom (h/t Sullivan):

When lifespans extend indefinitely, the effects are felt throughout the life cycle, but the biggest social impact may be on the young. According to Joshua Goldstein, a demographer at Princeton, adolescence will in the future evolve into a period of experimentation an education that will last from the teenage years into the mid-thirties. In a kind of wanderjahr prolonged for decades, young people will try out jobs on a temporary basis, float in and out of their parents’ homes, hit the Europass-and-hostel circuit, pick up extra courses and degrees, and live with different people in different places. In the past the transition from youth to adulthood usually followed an orderly sequence: education, entry into the labor force, marriage, and parenthood. For tomorrow’s thirtysomethings, suspended in what Goldstein calls “quasi-adulthood,” these steps may occur in any order.

Are we not there already?  This jumbling of lifescripts has been notably on the rise for at least 10 years, ISTM.  “Thirty is the new twenty,” the Sex & the City gals date men from “barely legal” to “distinguished,” and all that.  It all brings confusions and awkwardnesses, certainly, but it hardly seems like a “problem” that needs “fixing.”  Social institutions just need time to adjust to new expectations — or lack thereof — as previously bright lines fade and blur.

It’s not like we haven’t been here before.  I’m currently reading a novel written in the 1870s by William Dean Howells — a man so distinguished his name is on the American Academy of Arts & Sciences annual fiction award — that deals with much the same set of challenges in that era’s society.  Jane Austen, ISTM, trod some of the same ground in an English context.

Anyway, the article is an interesting read.

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